Justice Department Changes Policies- Scales Back Mandatory Minimum Sentencing for Low Level Drug Crimes

Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced that the Justice Department will immediately scale back the use of mandatory minimum sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to gangs, drug cartels or weapons. This means that persons charged with low level drug crimes may no longer face long mandatory minimum sentences.

Effect of Policy Change

The policy change comes about as a result of the massive overcrowding in the prison system and racial disparities in sentencing. According to Holder, the U.S. prison population has expanded by 800% since 1980, with 219,000 in federal prison, of which approximately half are serving time for drug-related crimes and substance abuse. While African-Americans make up approximately 13% of the U.S. population, they represent 37% of all federal inmates.

Holder also favors alternative sentencing policies for persons convicted of low level crimes such as drug rehabilitation and other diversion and deferred programs and expanding the current prison system to allow for release of some elderly non-violent inmates.

With the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for persons who are considered low level drug offenders, sentences that are handed down to those convicted will be more representative and fair of their crime and criminal history resulting in less people serving jail time in federal prison, shorter prison sentences or alternative sentencing.

Although the majority of drug crimes are prosecuted in the state courts, it is not immediately clear how this will decision will impact state sentencing guidelines in the future or those that are currently serving sentences for low level drug crimes in federal prison.   Many states have already decriminalized simple marijuana possession crimes and implemented drug diversion programs for first time low level drug offenders.

Georgia’s Conditional Discharge for First Offender Law

Under Georgia’s Controlled Substances Act or the Georgia Dangerous Drug Act, the court may defer any further proceedings against a person convicted of a first time drug offense for possession of a narcotic drug, marijuana, or stimulant, depressant, or hallucinogenic drug by placing the person under probation. Upon completion of the terms of probation, the court must discharge the person and dismiss the case. However, if the person violates the terms of their probation, then the court may enter an adjudication of guilt and sentence the person accordingly.

Georgia Criminal Defense Attorney

 If you have been charged with a federal or state drug offense, you need the assistance of a qualified and experienced Georgia criminal defense attorney to help you fight your charges. The attorney will investigate the evidence against you making sure that your civil rights were not violated, interview witnesses and negotiate with prosecutors to get your sentence reduced to a lesser crime, get your sentence deferred under Georgia’s conditional discharge for first offender laws, or get the case closed for lack of evidence.

If you would like to discuss your criminal case contact my office immediately.